Pac-12 Broadcasting 101: The kids are all right on USC-UCLA live hoops

Nico Gervasoni checks the shot from his Camera 5 position at Wednesday night’s UCLA-USC basketball game at Pauley Pavilion, televised by the Pac-12 Network. (Staff photo/John McCoy)

To Nico Gervasoni’s credit, he’s not camera shy.

The 19-year-old UCLA political science major may have had an anthropology and Italian class Wednesday morning, plus the need to study for a poli-sci midterm today.

But in between, the hands-on lessons that the sophomore learned from running Camera 5 during the Pac-12 Network’s coverage of the UCLA-USC basketball game at Pauley Pavilion probably helped him just as much to see a bigger picture of what a career in broadcast journalism could be like.

Because the recently-launched Pac-12 Networks is owned by the dozen member schools, a key part of the plan in broadcasting some 550 live events on TV for the initial sports calendar year is to treat the broadcasts as a lab experience by filling jobs on the TV production side – utility, parabolic microphones, font coordinators assisting the graphic engineer, plus running cameras and performing the stage manager tasks.

Producer Michael Molinari had a crew of about 25 on Wednesday night’s game, and two of them were UCLA students in key roles.

In the six-camera operation – two are at high mid-court to follow the primary game action, three’s one hand-held under each basket and one more floor-level at mid-court — Gervasoni’s responsibility  with the so-called “low slash” camera was to park himself in the upper level of the arena looking down at the team benches and isolate on things that director Scott Barke asked for over the headset.

Pac-12 Network director Scott Barke (center, seated in black shirt) goes over the camera assignments with his crew before Wednesday’s game at Pauley Pavilon. To Barke’s right is UCLA student Nico Gervasoni. (Staff photo/John McCoy)

Barke was essentially put into the position of calling up the live shots for the game with a group of experienced cameraman he often works with but also needing the patience to talk Gervasoni through ways to help him frame shots better by tightening or pulling back.

Gervasoni, a Royal High of Simi Valley graduate who has worked on the UCLA Daily Bruin newspaper, only got into the camera side of things recently. In need of some money to pay bills, he found a job through long-time UCLA video operations director Ken Norris to shoot football coaches’ gamefilm.

When the Pac-12 Network asked for help on its game coverage, Norris recommended Gervasoni.

Wednesday, Gervasoni arrived at Pauley Pavilion six hours before tipoff to help set up the cameras, test them out and attend production meetings. His cheat sheet was a list of both rosters on one side with mug shots of the coaches and players on the other – helpful to Gervasoni since he wasn’t sure what new USC interim coach Bob Cantu even looked like.

“I think I did OK, but I was having problems with my focus,” Gervasoni said today. “I was repeatedly ‘soft,’ which meant I wasn’t focused enough and my image came out fuzzy. That’s something I’ll learn as I get more camera time in general and become more experienced.

“Overall, that game was fun, and the other camera guys and the video and everyone in the truck was really kind and helpful. They get that I’m so inexperienced and mistakes will occur, but they were more than willing to talk me through them and help me out, and the telecast as a whole went smoothly.”

Take note: This was only the second game Gervasoni has done running a live game camera.

Barke said he was “happily surprised” by the work Gervasoni did on his first Pac-12 Network assignment, a UCLA-UC Irvine basketball game a couple of months ago.

“We start it simple, with just our direction,” said Barke, “but the next step is for us to feed him the announcers’ call of the game so he can follow what they’re saying and link up pictures.”

Staff photo/John McCoy

Christina Mattson, an undeclared freshman waiting to get into UCLA’s film school, was also on Wednesday’s crew as the stage manager next to play-by-play man Ted Robinson and analyst Don MacLean. Part of her job was to make sure the broadcasters read promo cards in the broadcast when requested over the headset by Molinari as well as count down the commercial breaks for them.

“This is awesome,” Mattson, a recent graduate of the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School in West L.A., said at halftime. “I feel really lucky to get this opportunity. There aren’t many chances to get this kind of experience.”

Robinson, the veteran broadcaster who hopped on a plane to New Orleans shortly after Wednesday’s broadcast to call Sunday’s Super Bowl for the San Francisco 49ers’ radio coverage, said he wished these kinds of experiences were available to him when he was a broadcast student at Notre Dame some 35 years ago.

“The most responsibility I was given was to run orange sodas for (ABC’s) Keith Jackson, and then I got yelled at for putting ice in it,” said Robinson, a student-manager for the Irish football team when Rudy Ruettiger got into his legendary one-and-only game in 1975.

“We were all trained really on radio broadcasts as well. The scales have really been reversed. This is a cool opportunity for this network to provide, really to give the students a chance to see if they like doing it before they want to go further in it.”

The students are also paid a special training rate, different from what a normal union-scale employee would have performing each task. That stipulation enforced by the conference got pushback from International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who eventually called off a two-week strike where they protested “unfair” labor practices by the use of non-union crew members. As the students progress, producers can recommend their student rates increase up to where it would be union scale.

Aside from the live Pac-12 Net TV games, which will increase to some 850 events by year three of the conference’ plan, video streaming of hundreds of more games online have given students even more places to learn.

As a result, some productions are entirely a student-run unit, including the announcers.

The Pac-12 Network broadcasts Ted Robinson, left, and Don MacLean talk to producer Michael Molinari in a production meeting before the UCLA-USC game Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion. (Staff photo/John McCoy)

“It’s all part of the learning curve,” said Molinari. “Like any roster, you just need more reps to find if you’ve got the talent to do a certain role. Who knows, maybe one of these will be my boss sooner or later.”

Gervasoni says his end game may be a career as a political consultant, but this gives him something else to consider.

“I didn’t even think about video or camera work,” he said. “I’ve had no formal training – I’m definitely not a film student. But they’re letting me learn on the fly.

“The joke is that if they need any rowdy shots of the crowd, I can always tell the producer and director to find my fraternity brothers (from Delta Tau Delta) in the student section.”

(John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

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